Baba Bir Singh jee (1768-1844) was a Sikh saint, holy man and great warrior who practiced Gurmat in its purity. Being disgusted at the events that followed the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikhs talked of making Baba Bir Singh jee their ruler King or Prime Minister. After Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death the anti-Panthic Dogra clan took control of the Sikh Kingdom and led an attack on Baba Bir Singh jee’s dera (camp) which led to Baba jee’s heroic shaheedi (martyrdom) which will be remembered throughout Sikh history.
BABA BIR SINGH JEE OF NAURANGABAD
Baba Bir Singh jee was born in July 1768 at the village of Gaggobua in Amritsar district. After his father, Bhai Seva Singh jee, became martyred in a military campaign in Multan, he joined the Sikh army. He took part in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s campaigns for the capture of Kashmir and Peshawar. After several years of active service, he secured his dismissal and began preaching Gurmat. He set up his dera (camp) in the village of Naurangabad in Amritsar district, near Tarn Taran, which became very popular. It is said that about 4,500 visitors were fed langar every day. As a result of Baba jee’s influence on the people, he had a volunteer army of 1,200 musket men and 3,000 horse men. Baba jee supported Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule and after the death of the Maharaja in 1839, he was deeply saddened to see the courtiers fight amongst themselves fuelled by jealousy, envy and anti-Sikh interests.
Sikhs turn to Baba Jee
During this critical period, Sikh soldiers and ordinary Sangat began to turn to Baba jee for guidance. On 2nd May 1844, Atar Singh Sandhanvalia, who had been in residence in British India for some time, crossed the Sutlej river into the Sikh territory and joined Baba Bir Singh jee who was then camping near Harike Pattan. The two surviving sons of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Prince Kashmira Singh and Prince Pashaura Singh, and many Sikh Sardaars (chiefs), including Jawahar Singh Nalva, son of the famous Sikh general Hari Singh Nalwa, and Diwan Baisaakha Singh, had already taken refuge at Baba jee’s dera. Baba jee’s camp had become the centre of the Sikh revolt against the Dogra dominance over the Panjab.
Dogra Rulers Order Attack
Hira Singh Dogra, the then ruler of the Sikh kingdom based in Lahore, sent a strong force comprising 20,000 men and 50 guns to attack Baba jee’s dera and capture the two surviving sons of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, fearing that he will lose rule to the Sikhs. At first the Sikh army of Lahore refused to attack the camp of a holy saint, however with the lies that Attar Singh joining Baba Bir Singh was a sign that they supported the British and planned to attack the Sikh kingdom influenced the Sikh army to follow the orders of the attack. The Sikh army besieged the camp on 7th May 1844.
Love for a fellow Sikh
Baba jee instructed the Sikhs to cook langar. Daal, Parshaadey, Kheer, and Degh were prepared as if they were cooking for thousands of people. Baba jee instructed that food should be placed in all the rooms of the fortress and that a full Baataa (bowl) of Degh should be in Guru Sahib’s presence ready for the arrival of the guests. Baba jee got the Sikhs to sing Gurbani. When the attack began on the fort, the Sikhs in the fort asked Baba jee for permission to fire back. Baba jee replied, “No! They are our brothers, not enemies. They are in the image (roop) of the Guru” The Sikhs inside the fort said, “But they are attacking us.” “They don’t realise that we are their brothers. However, we know they are. We cannot disrespect the Guru’s roop. This knowledge makes all the difference.” The difference was death. Those who value the Guru’s ideal of brotherhood, prefer death.
ਸਿੰਘ ਸਿੰਘ ਪਰ ਸ਼ਸਤ੍ਰ ਨ ਕਰੇ ॥ ਜਾਨ ਗੁਰੂ ਖਾਲਸੇ ਤੇ ਡਰੇ ॥੪੩॥
singh singh par shastar na kare. jaan guru khalse te dare ||43||
“A Sikh should never attack another Sikh. He should recognise others as the Guru Khalsa and should remain fearful of them (i.e. respect them).”
(Rehitnama: Bhai Desa Singh)
The bloody massacre
Baba jee sat in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib jee and absorbed himself in Bhagti (meditation). The Lahore Darbaar’s forces were shocked that there was no retaliation from the Sikhs inside the fort. They stormed inside the fort without a fight and slaughtered the Sikh Sangat and Baba Bir Singh jee’s men. Baba Jee’s right knee was shattered by a tank shell and his body was pierced with countless bullets and thousands of Sikhs were killed. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s two surving sons died in the onslaught and in the panic, hundreds of Baba Jee’s followers were drowned in the river while trying to cross it.
General Court’s battalion, which had played a leading part in the action, was boycotted when it reached the headquarters and was always referred to as Guru-maar (killer of the Guru or holy man). The attacking troops never forgave Hira Singh Dogra for forcing them into an action which led to the death of a holy saint, despite his attempts to promise to build a memorial where Baba Bir Singh jee had been cremated and provide money for its maintenance. He had to pay for this onslaught on Naurangabad with his own life. The killing of Baba Bir Singh jee and a subsequent attempt by Hira Singh Dogra’s favourite, Pandit Jalla, to poison Maharani Jind Kaur aroused strong feelings amongst the Sikh army. Fearing his death, Hira Singh Dogra abandoned Lahore, leaving with 4,000 of his trusted troops and several cartloads of gold, silver and jewels removed from the treasury, but a Sikh force led by Jawahar Singh and Sham Singh Attari-vala overtook him on the way, killing him along with his adviser, Pandit Jalla, on 21st December 1844.
In describing a worthy and blessed Sikh, Bhai Gurdaas jee writes in the last two lines:
ਗੁਰ ਸਿਖ ਗੁਰ ਸਿਖ ਪੂਜ ਕੈ ਭਾਇ ਭਗਿਤ ਭੈ ਭਾਣਾ ਭਾਵੈ ॥
gur sikh gur sikh pooj kai bhaae bhagat bhai bhaanaa bhaavai.
(Worthy is that Sikh) who loves another Sikh and embraces the love, devotion, and fear of Waheguru.
ਆਪੁ ਗਵਾਇ ਨ ਆਪੁ ਗਣਾਵੈ ॥12॥
aap gavaae na aap ganaavai. ||12||
That person loses their ego and does not assert themselves.
(Vaar 6: Pauri 12)
Dhan Hai Guru, Dhan Hai Teree Sikhee